Archive for May, 2016

First world problems in a developing country


On the way home last night, despite purchasing a bottle of gin and a lime, I realised there 20160531_140226.jpgwas no tonic at home. No shop near me sells tonic, despite a frantic search, although the place I lived previously was more cosmopolitan and had it readily available. So, the gin remained unopened.

This morning then the dilemma. Could I justify going to the supermarket just to get tonic and a lemon? Heck yes. So I went to my local supermarket and, instead of a six pack of tonic at $2.80 I could get a slab at $8.90. Result. But, one step forward two steps back. No lemons for sale. Existential crisis, what to do? Lime it will have to be.

My other piece of shopping on the way home was a paintbrush. This is not because I have just developed a love of the fine-arts but because my chilli plant is flowering. I dot see many bees around the neighbourhood, despite there being more greenery than you would think in the centre of Phnom Penh. 20160531_141159.jpgSo, if I want chillis, which I most certainly do, then I am going to have to fertilise the plant myself, which has now been done to the two flowers showing so far. With more on the way it looks like I’m going to have to get more familiar with fertilising things than I previously thought I would.

Tuesday and Thursday I start work at 17:30 which kind of makes up for having to work five hours on Saturday morning. It allows me to get admin, studying, cleaning and other things done which do not then have to be done at the weekend. One thing I also have come to enjoy doing is 20160531_111914.jpggoing for a swim at the Olympic Pool in the Olympic Stadium. It was not built to host the Olympics but there was hope of getting the Asian Games in the 60’s which led to the construction of the stadium, pool etc. For $2 I usually get personal use of a 50 metre pool. This time I was not alone. A video was being shot, first the star lip-syncing then joined by a troupe of backing dancers. First with the diving board and pool as a backdrop, then through the fence. It entertained me as I made my way up and down to complete my 7 x 100 metres swim. On getting out I took the picture above of the ‘star’ does any reader know who it is?

Boys, girls, airfield, New temple in old, bamboo bridge and French lighthouse.


The last full day in what was now being called ‘the Cham’ started leisurely enough with a lie-in followed by  breakfast at the Mekong Crossing. We got on our bikes and headed out of Kompong Cham on Route 7, the one we should have arrived on! All we knew was that we were looking for a bird statue. After a few kilometres we came to what seemed like a dragon with wings, our map had a dragon with wings before the bird so we went on for another 12 kilometres before deciding it wasn’t a dragon after all but a bird and went back to it. This took us to Phnom Pros, Man Hill.

The pictures above show the temple at the top of the hill, the view across to Women hill and scenes including me with my new pet and a woman respectively. The link above says that this was a site for detention and torturing in Kompong Cham province during the Khmer Rouge. Afterwards across to Phnom Srey, Woman Hill.

The pictures above showing the climb to the top, two pictures at the top and the view across to Phnom Pros. The temple at the top was not as big or ornate as the one at the top of Phnom Pros but the hill was taller and not accessible by road.

After the temples we set off in search of an old airport. We found the airport. There is nothing I could find on the internet which explained why there was an airport here and why it has fallen into disuse.

What I do know is that whilst I was trying to get closer to what we imagined was the control tower at the airfield (pictured below) someone’s motorbike ceased working. Initially we thought it had run out of fuel so I went off to a roadside stall we had passed on the way to the airfield to get supplies, making sure I filled up my tank too to avoid the same problem, and returned with two-thirds of a litre of fuel. The bike would still not move. Two hours later in the heat of the midday sun we still had not moved, apart from eventually pushing our bikes into the shade of a tree and me going off to get drinks. The guest house had been rung and there were stories about a mechanic coming but not finding us so going home for his lunch,  the guest house trying to ring but getting no reply as I had no signal and then then sending us a tuk-tuk to tow the bike back into town. Fortunately this was not necessary as, in the course of preparing to tow the bike, one of the people who came to attend to us discovered that the engine cut-off switch, pictured below in the correct position, had been pulled forward to cut-off the engine. What a stupid mistake. We had been told about it when hiring the bikes but had forgotten. Anyway, we could continue on our way, after rewarding the tuk-tuk drive and his mate for their troubles in helping us resolve our troubles.

Now we were mobile again it was back to town, stopping to fill the tanks right up, after I had eventually managed to open mine much to the amusement and chagrin, at the same time, of the attendant. So it was off to Wat Nokor, an 11th century temple with a new temple built inside. It has it’s own Oedipal  story.

After being out in the sun on the airfield a breeze and some shade were very welcome. I’m known to one person in particular as ‘grumpy’, I think we can see from the picture at the top on the right which of us is grumpy! After touring the site it was off to the final two destinations. The first of which was the Bamboo Bridge. It is said this is washed away each year and rebuilt again, a seemingly Sisyphean task. It was a bit worrying at first as it was approached through sand and the previous days experience with mud made us very wary of it and then there was always the fear of the bamboo giving way.

Once safely on the island on the other side of the river we could see the floating houses of the Cham community, which give the town part of its name, and their Mosque pictured above. The final stop of the day was the old colonial lighthouse. This was something of a race against time, to get there and back before the rain closed in, the dark skies showing on the picture above.

We finally crossed the Mekong to the Old French Lighthouse, although some dispute whether it was a lighthouse, or is French. You can’t really see the steepness of the steps on the ladder, which would not have been a problem ascending but would have been horrible coming back down, which were sufficiently discouraging to prevent us trying to get to the top.There was even time to take the photo of the tower from the Kizuna bridge before heading back to the guest-house just as the rains came. A nice fish and chips supper and a few beers before heading to bed and falling asleep from the rigours of the day.


On the streets of Kompong Cham


Kompong Cham, Cambodia’s third largest city and, according to Travel North East Cambodia, “is the capital of Cambodia’s most populous province.”

Travelfish goes on to say, “It’s also remarkably pretty, not only in the landscape, but also in the architecture. If you want to get a feel for a real Cambodian city — Phnom Penh is predominantly Chinese or Sino-Khmer, and Siem Reap is… something else — then this offers an interesting glimpse. The city is large, though the central area hugging the Mekong is where you’ll likely spend most of your time. From there, explorers will be rewarded with an array of architecture styles from early French colonial buildings, typical Chinese shophouses, and buildings influenced by the New Khmer Architectural style developed during Cambodia’s “golden” years in the 1960s.”

Descriptions also go on to talk about Angkorian statues around the town. I don’t think Carlsberg do statues but you would have thought, if they did, they would probably be the best statues in the world…….

And, from early evening the river-front becomes busy as people promenade, play sports, eat street food and take exercise, or in the case of most of the men, wait and watch while the women take exercise.

Going up the country


After the weekend two days holiday so finish work on Saturday, collect passport and hire two motorbikes. Sunday pick them off and head out of the city. I’ve not been on a bike with gears in more than 30 years, so is this just some  mid-life crisis chasing after lost youth? Who knows? What I do know is that I handled starting surprisingly well, enough for the hire place to say that I was a motorcyclist! My co-rider and I were on the road. Monnivong to be precise.

We stopped for petrol and then headed out of Phnom Penh over the Japanese Bridge where we promptly lost each other. The plan had been to stop for breakfast, got separated going over the bridge and then on the road to Siem Reap. There were now doubts, was this the correct road. So I headed back to the roundabout. A phone call later we met up again at the roundabout and while the co-rider joined me I checked google maps to find our route and we did want the road to Siem Reap then turn right off it. Heading out of the city I learnt more about the bike, got practice changing gear and got up to the frightening speed of 80 kilometres an hour (km/h).

After passing the Prek Tam Eak Bridge the traffic thinned out and then we came to the turning for Kampong Cham to the right so took it. The plan was to ride the National 20160522_104925.jpgHighway 7 straight there, nice metalled roads so good for someone who hasn’t ridden a motorised bike for a long time. The sign for the turn-off didn’t say National Highway 7 but, hey that’s just the Cambodians not being great at signs eh? The road also didn’t look like much of a National Highway, one lane in each direction, but hey it was metalled so everything was Ok? After 2 kilometres it was not metalled. Ah, the dirt track you see in the picture to the left. It was not the Cambodians not being great at signs but us, we had taken the wrong turning.

Another wrong turn off took us down a country lane and we had to go through puddles and very slippery mud, little did we know it but a portent of what was to come! Some kind locals told us, in English, that we should go back to a coffee shop and turn and we would be back on the road. Anyway, back on the road and we passed villages, some with weddings  where we knew if we stopped we would be asked to join, but we weren’t really dressed for it.

Along the ride we caught glimpses of the mighty Mekong River to our right which gave 20160522_110942.jpgcomfort that we were headed in the right direction as Kampong Cham is on the Mekong. The picture is taken from one of a number of bridges which were repaired, after flood damage, by the Asia Development Bank and the Australian Government. As you can see the river that should be flowing under the bridge to the Mekong is dry, as were all of the ones we crossed.

After a while we came to a stretch were the road surface was being renewed. Big machines were spreading out dirt and a roller was flattening it, whilst trucks loaded with dirt were 20160522_112327.jpgbringing up more dirt. We negotiated this fine and then came to a stretch where it was muddy. This was dealt with as well. But as we came into a village it was very wet and extremely slippery. Despite being in the lowest gear and not accelerating at all, just going at the tick-over, the back wheel went. The site is in the picture on the left. The colleague was right behind me and he went too. As we found out the exhaust fell on his leg burning it. What was concerning at the time the co-rider’s bike’s clutch lever was broken. We couldn’t even move it.What were we going to do, stuck in a village in Cambodia with a broken bike and covered in mud?

Well, we did, and got our bikes to the side of the road. After having a good laugh at the two foreigners (barang) falling over in the mud, the local people helped us clean ourselves up and pointed out a mechanic. My co-rider went off to get him whilst I minded the bikes.

When he joined us the mechanic showed us up by not only moving the bike, he rode it back 20160522_113805.jpgup the street. We trudged after him and chatted with family/colleagues etc whilst he repaired it. $2 later, for parts and labour, we were back on the road. The mechanic is pictured testing the bike on the right. In more of the sticky mud. We came to a metalled stretch and could speed up, Alas, it was just a stretch either side of a repaired bridge and we were soon back on the mud. I spotted on a milestone that Kampong Cham was 26 kilometres away, so was relieved we did not have so far to go.

The road was mainly dry and the mud compact so it was possible to get up to 40 – 50 km/h 20160522_161804.jpgbut then it would be wet mud and it was back down to the lowest gear and tick- over or there were more earth moving machines and they had to be navigated carefully. My back wheel went a few times but I managed to stay on and I saw my co-rider’s back wheel go but he stayed the bike. (Picture on our left is of our destination, The Mekong Crossing Guest House) A few adventures like having to jam the brakes on at a bridge as there was only one track and there was a lorry full of dirt coming the other way.

Then nirvana, we were back on metalled road. After a while of comfortable riding at a decent speed we stopped for a break and I was able to tell my co-rider we only had 4 kilometres to go. So, we rode into town, stopped to check where our destination was on google maps again, and then rode up to the guest house and parked up. After lunch we walked around town which seemed quite charming and then snoozed then showered before getting something to eat at Lazy Mekong Daze.

On arrival we found in Travel North East Cambodia that we should have stayed on Highway 6 to Siem Reap for another almost 40 kilometres before finding Highway 7. Oh well.


View from the guest house at lunch. You can see how it got it’s name.

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